Better known as a dogged defensive player, Marc Pingris proved Sunday night he can score in bunches, too.
With his offense-minded teammates taking care of the defense, the do-it-all Pingris tallied a personal conference-best of 24 points to help B-Meg shackled streaking Barangay Ginebra with a clinical 82-70 victory and pushed the Llamados closer to a coveted finals seat in the PBA Governors Cup at the packed Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
Import Marqus Blakely backstopped Pingris with 17 points and 11 boards while James Yap and Rafi Reavis added 11 apiece for B-Meg, which improved its record to 9-4 record, just half-a-game behind pace-setting Rain or Shine (9-3).
More importantly, the Llamados, who were coming off a stinging 101-104 defeat at the hands of the also-ran Meralco Bolts last Friday, gained at least an outright shot for the finals.
And coach Tim Cone credited his team’s collective defense, best typified by Yap and PJ Simon–B-Meg’s regular source of offensive production–who took turns in shutting down Ginebra ace Mark Caguioa to a horrible three-point outing.
“The biggest key was we came out with a defensive mindset,” stressed Cone. “We came in with a renewed commitment to play defense and we made a statement right in the first quarter. We limited their output in the first half and that gave us a good feeling. It carried through to the end.”
Cedric Bozeman delivered a team-high 22 points and 13 rebounds while Jayjay Helterbrand added 16 and Kerby Raymundo 14 but those went for naught as the Gin Kings visibly missed the usual explosive output from Caguioa and eventually dropped to an 8-5 mark.
Despite going scoreless in the first half, Yap slowly got his bearings back and Simon, who finished with just four points, did a commendable job suffocating Caguioa no end.
“PJ didn’t score much but for me, he’s the MVP of this game. He sacrificed his offense and exactly played we’re hoping him to play,” noted Cone.
Heading into the game with a 21.3-point average in the past three semis outings, Caguioa could only muster three free throws as he completely fired bricks from the field in12 attempts.
After a tight first half, the Gin Kings went on a roll midway in the third as Bozeman canned his charities for a brief 43-42 lead then the Pingris-led surge enabled the Llamados to take full command with a 62-51 spread into the final canto.
Meanwhile, import Mario West capped his game-long offensive brilliance with a game-winning shot as the eliminated Bolts salvaged some measure with a thrilling 113-112 victory over dethroned conference titlist Petron Blaze.
An NBA veteran who suited up for New Jersey Nets and Atlanta Hawks, West capped his 41-point explosion with an awkward-looking basket against a phalanx of Boosters defenders with 1.6 seconds left, enough to help the Bolts finished fifth in the import-spiced conference with a 6-8 record and an overall 20-23 mark in the season, a marked improvement from their 13-20 card in their debut season last season.
Mac Cardona rammed in 26 points and Sol Mercado added 19 while guard Chris Ross flirted with a triple-double after coming up with 10 points, as many boards and eight assists.
Wily playmaker Alex Cabagnot, who drained a trey that gave the Boosters a 112-111 lead with 5.7 seconds remaining, collected 29 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds while Chris Lutz contributed 22 markers and Arwind Santos 16.
However, the struggling Petron Blaze absorbed its fourth straight defeat in the semis and eighth overall in 14 outings. This season, the Boosters posted a 23-23 win-loss slate, a far cry from their 32-24 outing in coach Ato Agustin’s initial stint last season.
MERALCO 113 – West 41, Cardona 26, Mercado 19, Ross 10, Taulava 10, Macapagal 5, Reyes 2, Timberlake 0.
PETRON 112 – Cabagnot 29, Lutz 22, Santos 16, Faison 15, Washington 11, Pena 6, Yeo 5, Hontiveros 4, Baclao 2, Duncil 2, Lanete 0.
Quarterscores: 29-24; 56-46; 88-79; 113-112.
B-MEG 82 – Pingris 24, Blakely 17, Yap 11, Reavis 11, Urbiztondo 9, Simon 4, De Ocampo 4, Villanueva 2, Barroca 0.
GINEBRA 70 – Bozeman 22, Helterbrand 16, Raymundo 14, Mamaril 4, Cortez 4, Caguioa 3, Maierhofer 2, W. Wilson 2, Hatfield 2, Villanueva 1, Maliksi 0, Ababou 0, Canaleta 0, Menk 0.
Quarterscores: 19-16; 32-25; 62-51; 82-70.